Sweet Te Muri crossing consensus
In its 33-year story, the Mahurangi Coastal Trail has seen some meaningful milestones. Last Thursday’s is one such, particularly tangible trail marker.
Circa 1987, Auckland Regional Parks management had decided where a bridge was to cross Te Muri Stream; it was to run smack across the widest point of the estuary. But that was a relatively minor concern; it was to be full-sized concrete road bridge, emptying into a car park for thousands. The sense of splendid isolation Te Muri had instantly become adored for, was set to be torn asunder.
Fast forward to Thursday 12 March 2020, and not only was the consensus on the crossing point not unilateral—excluding community and mana whenua—it was for a footbridge, reflecting the radical council change of heart, formalised in 2017, making Te Muri officially, splendidly, car-free forever. That decision—technically, a management-plan variation—prioritised a Te Muri all-tide crossing, without prescribing exactly where that be and what form it would take, but noted:
…Te Muri Stream is identified in the [Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan] as highly ecologically significant estuary. It has Outstanding Natural Landscape, High Natural Character (north bank) and is a Significant Ecological Area – Coastal 1 and is recognised as an Outstanding Natural Feature.
That caveat notwithstanding, the commissioners recommended:
that the [management plan] policies relating to pedestrian and cycle access be amended to allow for immediate access [to Te Muri] via Te Muri Stream…
Although a route had been suggested in 1987, when a renewed effort to achieve a Mahurangi Coastal Trail was mobilised in 2012, two additional options were explored. One departed from where most Te Muri visitors have crossed in the 47 years since the land was acquired, as regional park, but rather than land on Te Muri spit, with its sensitive ecological and cultural features, it landed more or less opposite, on the Nokenoke terrace—in fact, all three options respected the spit, in that regard.
The other option, included more for completeness, was considerably farther upstream, and consequently considerably more expensive. But being twice the price as either of the other two options wasn’t its main failing. It would have required Te Muri visitors to detour so far from what is generally their primary objective—Te Muri Beach—that it would have been used only as a last resort. But, although underutilisation of infrastructure is a concern—particularly given the scant total amount invested in non-motorised transportation—the as-important consideration was that it would have encouraged risk-taking in the form of folk attempting to cross the estuary near the top of an outgoing tide.
This concern, to reduce risk taking, was also a principle argument in favour of the recent downstream option. Additionally, it was argued, desire lines would strongly favour a crossing at, or very near, the existing fording point. But that was to ignore the potential for establishing fresh desire lines, beginning from the end of Ngārewa Drive, where walkers have a view of Te Muri Estuary, and none of Te Muri Beach. Then, halfway down the hill, was the road to be redirected to continue on down towards the estuary, and the old road disrupted and partially naturalised, instinct would lead walkers straight to the new crossing.
Generations have now camped Te Muri, and many now come complete with carts to haul their equipment and provisions the 1.2 kilometres to the campground, via the estuary, typically during the period a couple of hours either side of low tide. Although the proposed new route is a fraction longer—about 150 metres—it won’t require the contents of the ubiquitous carts to be transshipped at the estuary. Also, nicely planted, in time the walk could be pleasantly shaded. Additionally, consideration could be given to creating a new, campsite on the broad, 3.3-hectare Nokenoke terrace. This would be a boon for hundreds camping there on Auckland Anniversary weekend, to be within an easy stroll of the natural Mahurangi Regatta amphitheatre that are the hillsides of Sullivans Bay. It will require imagination and dedication to ensure that 99% of Te Muri visitor impact is not concentrated on its beach.
Although protection of the urupā and shore-breeding bird habitat is paramount, also important is the need for regional parkland, where practicable, to be access-and-mobility accessible. One possibility is to permit by-arrangement use of the road, extended to the 1300-square-metre natural terrace that sits within maybe four metres of the level of the boardwalk proposed. Providing a trail at a gradient of no more than 1:20 is challenging, but given that the beach is only a 1.0-kilometre all-but-level run from there, those disabled are as at least deserving of enjoying Te Muri’s sense of splendid isolation as anyone.
For those privileged with personal transport, or otherwise readily able to access a regional park, the isolation afforded, and camaraderie at a contagion-safe distance, will be increasingly precious as months of covid-19-caused confinement takes its toll.
First casualty of pandemics As in war, in the covid-19 pandemic, in the age of Donald Trump’s go-to propaganda weapon, “fake news”, and the time of terminally malignant social media, the first casualty is truth:
Every country engaged in World War I tried to control public perception. To avoid hurting morale, even in the nonlethal first wave [of the 1918 Pandemic, beginning in March 1918] the press in countries fighting in the war did not mention the outbreak. But Spain was not at war and its press wrote about it, so the pandemic became known as the Spanish flu.
The government of a country whose indigenous people suffered a five-and-a-half-times-higher rate of mortality during the 1918 Pandemic than its Pākehā-dominant general population has an unparalleled duty to display the transparency called for by Sir David Skegg—epidemiologist at the University of Otago Medical School, former chairman of the Public Health Commission, the Health Research Council, and New Zealand’s Science Board.